SMITHVILLE — Weekly, Smithville School District leadership collects data on COVID-19 positivity rates as well as quarantines among students and staff in schools and the central office. Starting Monday, Nov. 1, depending on what the newly-implemented gating criteria shows, masks may be optional under certain conditions.
Denise Harwood, student services director for the district, created gating criteria after the September school board meeting. Other districts around the state implement masking and other safety protocols based on factors such as number of cases per school and student population, plus they are creating gating criteria specific to their districts.
As of Oct. 2, there were 2,858 in schools, which include students, staff and other personnel. Harwood set up the criteria in a green, yellow and red color scheme with green being 1% or less of a school building’s population testing positive or being in quarantine, yellow for 1.1 to 4% infection and quarantine rate and red for 4.1% or more.
Allowances for schools in the green zone include optional masking for staff and students, social distancing not required in most situations and field trips permitted. Also in this zone, visitors are permitted, but must mask up.
In the yellow or caution zone, social distancing of 3 feet is required as are masks in high-traffic and small group areas, field trips are allowed with “mitigation measures” in place. Assemblies are also permitted if social distancing protocols are maintained. In this zone, visitors are allowed only if they wear a mask.
In the red zone, the most restricted, masks are required indoors at all times and outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained. In this zone, classes cohort for recess and no field trips or visitors are allowed. Assemblies are also restricted.
Regardless of color zone, masks will still be required on all school buses per federal mandate.
Currently, the threshold for the high school to stay in the green is to have 10 cases or under. At the middle school it is up to four cases; and up to five for the elementaries.
During the week of Oct. 13 to 19, the high school had four positive cases and Eagle Heights Elementary had 10. The middle school had one and the other two elementary schools had two cases.
Initially Harwood wanted to wait and keep the current masking requirements in place, but the board voted to move quicker with the Nov. 1 date.
School board member Ian Saxton called the criteria a direction to try.
“If there is merit,” he said, “why wait?”
At a recent school board meeting, member Susan Whitacre said she worries about pushing the efforts as the FDA has not yet made vaccinations available for those aged 5 to 11.
Superintendent Todd Schuetz sent out a letter to families last week, explaining the gating criteria. According to information sent to families, after data is collected from Oct. 27, families will be notified prior to Nov. 1 regarding the masking policy at the child’s school and will be “notified again should the practice change as dictated by the data.”